WASHINGTON – Lawyers for terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui (search) on Tuesday asked all the judges on a Southern appeals court to consider whether Moussaoui can have direct access to Al Qaeda witnesses and whether the government can seek his execution.
If the full 4th Circuit Court of Appeals (search) in Richmond, Va., approves a rehearing of the issues, already adjudicated by a three-judge appellate panel, a long-delayed trial would be postponed even longer.
"Moussaoui has a constitutional right to compel attendance of witnesses. The panel opinion denies him that right," said Edward MacMahon Jr., one of Moussaoui's lawyers.
He added, "If the court doesn't give him the full abilities to present a defense, the government shouldn't be allowed to seek the death penalty."
Moussaoui is the only U.S. defendant charged with participating in an Al Qaeda (search) terrorism conspiracy that included the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Moussaoui has acknowledged his loyalty to Al Qaeda but said in court filings that he was to be part of a later operation.
The indictment against the French citizen will be three years old in December, and the same witness access and death penalty issues have caused much of the delay.
In mid-September, the three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit reaffirmed an earlier ruling that said Moussaoui could have access to summaries of statements made by three high-level Al Qaeda prisoners. The decision also said defense lawyers could submit questions for the witnesses, but the procedure was deleted from the opinion for security reasons.
The panel also ruled — for a second time — that the government had the right to seek the death penalty if Moussaoui is convicted.